Unshakeable Confidence: Facing Fear, Taking Risks, and Surviving the Falls

ziji (zē’jē) n. 1. radiant inner confidence

I’m writing this sitting on a plane ride from North Carolina en route to Ashland via San Francisco. Sitting next to me is Fred, a Texan hydrogeologist. He tells me a story. It starts with a dream. Back in the day as a single man, he promised himself that when he had kids, he would raise them in Mexico. For him, it was the perfect place for the way he wanted to raise his kids, allowing for cultural immersion and life-expanding experiences. Lo and behold, years later, at the height of his career, the kids arrived. Not the best timing. Did he freak out knowing he was at a highpoint in his career and tell himself, “Hellz no! I am not going to Mexico! Not now!” ?

Au contraire. And neither did his wife. He stayed true to his dream and they sold everything, moving their family to Mexico. The first six years were full of trials to say the least. It was challenging to find a job as a Texan hydrogeologist, even after having done work there previously. I think he may have used the words “it was actually kind of like hell.” They wondered, often, “What have we DONE?!”

BUT, over the course of about 6 years, things started turning around. He and his wife started a furniture business. It grew. It became a success. And now, after 16 years in Mexico, they are quite happy and content. In the end, he says he sees it as one of the best decisions of his life, and it has been a truly enriching experience for his kids, which was the whole point of taking that risk in the first place. Fred confirms this by saying that to NOT have ever gone to Mexico – wondering “What if?” – would have been far worse than going through those challenging 6-7 years. Fred, my friends, has Ziji.

Ziji is all about confidence. But not just any confidence. True. Radiant. Inner. Confidence.

Where the heck IS this Ziji?!

Let’s start by imagining what life was like before anything “bad” ever happened to us (sah-weet!). I’d like to use the metaphor of a house. Once upon a proverbial time, you were in a big beautiful home. You had lots of open windows that brought in lots of light and refreshing breezes. It felt spacious and free. As you looked through the windows and doors of this home and the breeze wafted over you, you got to experience life “out there.” The windows and doors allowed opportunity to come in, and for you to seek it out. Over time, as you looked out different windows and doors, you had good and bad experiences with the world “out there.” However, as you experienced the bad ones, they hurt you so deeply. They scared you. They pissed you off. You wanted to avoid those experiences and protect yourself from them as much as possible, so that you never had to experience them – or anything like them – ever again. They made you…uncomfortable. You closed those windows and doors, vowing to keep them shut forever.

What kinds of things cause us to close off to the world and shut those windows and doors of opportunity?
Well, a few examples from some of my past clients’ lives are:

  • Being told it isn’t realistic to live our passions (dreaming shuts down!).
  • A partner leaving you for someone else (trust shuts down!).
  • Splurging on yourself for once, then losing your job (generosity towards yourself – and likely others – shuts down!).
  • Hearing your parents argue day and night about money (being comfortable with money and abundance shuts down!).
  • Putting your all into applying to the best gradate school out there and not getting accepted (taking big risks shuts down!).
  • Putting on your first art show and nothing sells (believing you can be successful living your passion shuts down!).

There’s lots.

Blam! Slam! Boom! Thud! Eventually, all the windows and doors are shut, you are in a dark house, cold, dank, lifeless. But hey, YOU’RE SAFE! Woohoo!

Well, not really.

You think you’ve managed to protect yourself from those bad experiences ever happening again, but you’ve also closed yourself off to any possible opportunities, joy, and light. You don’t take risks where there is even the remote possibility of failing. You take apparent “risks” for things you are sure to succeed in, and are successful in the things you actually attempt to do. But you never take any real risks.

You only date people who likely won’t dump you. You apply for jobs that you’re overqualified for. You never take vacations or buy nice things for yourself because you need to save LOTS (“you never know what’ll happen”) and you pride yourself in being “frugal.” You have a safe job with good benefits and it’s “alright.” You paint as a hobby and your family admires your talent and tells you they are so glad you went to law school instead of art school. And you smile back. You put off starting that business of yours because you have kids, and no “responsible” mom would do that with kids so you’re doing the “right” thing.

By the way, we often write off living our passions and dreams with the excuse of needing to be “responsible.” Yet we seem to have the definition of resposible mean to only do things that are completely safe. No risks. Risks are “bad” and “irresponsible.” Well, perhaps Fred didn’t pick the “safest” option, but it didn’t qualify as irresponsible…at least not in Ziji land, or to his happy kids who now travel the world and dream big.

The result of not taking any real risks is you never know what might actually be possible should you live life full-out. Risks and all. And you’re scared as hell that you don’t have all your bases covered and something is going to sneak in through one of those windows and doors and knock you around again. And it probably will.

What a crappy place to be.

So what is the real fear here? And once again…where the heck is this Ziji?
Why do we protect ourselves with such fervor? It’s not because of what is actually happening in the NOW. Usually, it is because we don’t think we’ll be able to take what comes next, that we’ll be able to handle it again, or because we imagine the worse case scenario and we know we just don’t LIKE being uncomfortable (and its myriad manifestations of intensity)!

In her book Unconditional Confidence, Pema Chodron describes getting knocked down by ocean waves. Life is like standing at the ocean’s edge. Eventually, there will always come a wave that will knock us down. When the huge scary ones in life arrive that look like they will knock us down, we either try to run away or stand up with all our might to keep from getting knocked down. We try to protect ourselves.

Thing is, the ocean is powerful. The waves we’re talking about here always knock us down. It’s just part of being human. So you see, it doesn’t work to run away from them. It’s part of being alive. They always catch up to you, and if you run they just get ya from behind and you eat a bunch of sand and it gets in your eyes and in your undies. You can try with all your might to be “strong,” plant your feet, and not get taken out…but it’s exhausting, and once you’re knocked down, you’re just more tired at the end of it all. Sometimes you get held down a long time under water and get spun around like in a washing machine, and you barely make it up for air. Other times, you get a bunch of sand in your mouth and water in your ears. But what we seem to fail to notice is: we ALWAYS get back up!

Maybe one time we got knocked down and it took a few weeks…or months…or years to get back up. Another time it took a few days. Another time a few minutes. No matter what, we always stood back up. Shaken, but standing.

So our fear in the end isn’t in the waves themselves...it is the fear that we might not get back up.

These waves of life do recede. And we always have the opportunity to get back up. And we HAVE gotten back up many times in the past. So instead of trying to protect yourself, remind yourself of all the times you have gotten up in your life. THAT is where true radiant inner confidence – Ziji – comes from. And you can’t develop Ziji without having been knocked down and getting back up again. You need to know that you can stand up again and again. You always do! I’m not saying it is always fun. It’s way different than body surfing. I’m just saying you always get up, so stop worrying about that part.

If you start to embrace the waves, and if you cultivate your Ziji, your inner confidence, when these waves take you down, you will get up faster and faster each time. And the waves will feel smaller and smaller each time. You will stop focusing on protecting yourself from the waves, trying to figure out ways for them to stop happening, working out to stand your ground. Instead, you will accept that waves happen. You will have the confidence to know you will get back up. And somewhere deep inside, you will know that wondering “what if” is a hell of a lot worse than getting knocked down and getting back up. ZIji is inside you. In all of us.

The waves in life WILL happen, whether you accept them or not (they have!).

You WILL get knocked down (it’s happened!).

And you WILL get back up (you DID!).

You have enough. We all do. Build your Ziji, your radiant inner confidence, and you will be willing to take those risks, get knocked down, and get back up because THAT is living. Keep the windows and doors open, let in the light and the opportunities. The rewards are priceless: joy, fulfillment, passion, unshakeable confidence, contentment, peace of mind, growing beyond your wildest dreams, doing what you never thought possible, inspiring others around you to do the same.

So do it. Ziji Up! The perfect antidote to fear is action…even small action.

Bring it: make a list of the times you’ve been taken down by a wave and stood up again. See this as proof of what you already know: you have all you need inside of you.

F.O.M.O (Fear of Missing Out) and Other Four-Letter WordsThat Keep Us From Making Decisions

Those of us who strive to live Wild Awake often tend to have a lot going on at any given moment–if not outwardly, at least in our heads. There are just so many bright shiny objects seemingly screaming for our attention. And they all seem so important, FUN, urgent, exciting, or fleeting. There’s family and friends, work projects, movies, concerts, hikes, symphonies, potlucks,dance parties, climbs, plays, river runs, sunsets, star gazing, wine tasting, traveling, books to read, and SO MUCH MORE! And when it comes to the big picture of what we should DO with our lives, our purpose, there can be even more confusion! Should I set out to be an entrepreneur? Should I stay at home with the kids or go back to work part time? Is my calling to be a teacher or an inventor? An engineer or a ski bum? Should I take the risk of leaving my job that is sucking me bone dry? There are so many decisions…so how do we balance it all? First, let’s get clear on the
question.

What do I want?
When taking in all our options, we often feel overwhelmed and end up attempting to do it all, or do nothing at all. While F.O.F (Fear of Failure) is often at the root of doing nothing, for those prone to the former, my friends introduced me to the term F.O.M.O. (Fear of Missing Out). FOMO leads to very busy schedules, very little sleep, very little sitting still, and can certainly also lead to a whole lot of good times. It seemed we often fell victim to this “affliction” of FOMO. We tried to do it all due to a fear of missing out…but missing out on what?

If we’re considering FOMO, what exactly is it that we are afraid of when we try to pack in so much? For many it is a fear of missing out on that one thing that would have really lit up our spirit. It isn’t always easy to tell in advance what that might be, so we just pack it all in. While the realization that life is precious and thus wanting to make the most of it is a beautiful practice, eventually it becomes clear that it doesn’t mean packing in every single moment with more and more events. But how do we narrow things down?

Decisions are harder to make when we aren’t clear about what we want. At the same time, the question of “what do I want?” can be so ambiguous. In considering all this, I wondered if my particular FOMO was not so much fearing that I’d miss out on “what I want” per se, but rather a resurfacing of my most dreaded childhood fear: the Fear of Being Bored (FOBB). As a kid I would cry from from boredom. I didn’t care about chocolate chip cookies or barbie dolls so much as I just didn’t want to be bored. It slayed me.

What would excite me?
Tim Ferriss says in The 4 Hour Work Week, “The opposite of happiness is boredom…The question you should be asking isn’t, ‘What do I want?’ or ‘What are my goals?’ but ‘What would excite me?'” He even refers to ADD as “Adventure Deficit Disorder.” Most psychological theories and spiritual traditions agree that we humans do the things we do because of one common goal: to be happy. If we strive for happiness, then what, conversely, are we avoiding? What are we fearing? Why does Tim think its opposite is boredom?

Let’s consider some alternatives for the opposite of happiness. What about sadness? Well, it doesn’t really seem to be the opposite of happiness. There are people who are not happy who aren’t necessarily sad. Same goes for anger. And anxiety. And fear. Sadness, fear, anxiety and anger…these are generally transient emotions you can have even while generally being happy. However, when someone is totally lacking happiness, they seem to have lost the spark. They have lost what excites them. I can start to see where Tim is going here…perhaps it is that we want to avoid being bored.

One of the most common things I hear from my coaching clients is that they want more. Not more stuff, but more zest. Their current jobs, relationships, or lifestyles are missing something. I began to notice that whether artist or engineer, student or CEO, climber or knitter: the most common way this unmet need is phrased is a lack of creativity in their lives. Things feel flat. Dull. And this doesn’t feel right! Why doesn’t this feel right? I believe it is because our baseline is to be creative, whether you think you’re a creative type or not. Our baseline is to be excited by life, whether that’s in quiet moments with our families, starting that business you’ve been dreaming about, going back to school, climbing an exposed rockface, seeing a project come to fruition, dressing up to hit the town, taking that year-long trip around the world, or heading out on a date with your partner. Even falling asleep after a long productive day can feel exciting!

To be “excited” by life doesn’t mean you need to always be jumping up and down and dancing all over the place (although those who know me would say that is how I tend to manifest excitement). Rather, it is a feeling of aliveness, of being Wild Awake, no matter what you are doing.

Live the Questions
So, my friends…if you’ve got FOMO, FOF, ADD or FOBB or any other such three and four-letter words, instead of asking “What do I want?” try asking yourself, “What would truly excite me?” Give it some time, and space, and silence. The soft still voice in you will speak (or shout!) and you will know. Sometimes its not what we want to hear. But you really do know deep down what excites you–on a day to day level, and a life purpose level. And if no answer arrives just yet, then do as Rilke says: “Live the questions.” But whatever you do, don’t ignore it. There is a saying, “The quality of your life is directly related to the quality of the questions you ask of yourself.” So keep asking! And allow the answers to shift and flow.

With summer, even more opportunities to experience life blossom, and you get to practice asking these questions each day. When you’re focused on doing what truly excites you in the moment, the decisions around what to do will be more clear, and you will be more present with whatever and whomever you are spending your precious life moments with.

“Try not. Do or Do Not. There is No Try” Yoda

Dean Potter on a slackline in Yosemite. Trying, or doing? (photo from Prana blog)

I was just climbing in Yosemite. The towering granite always manages to make me–and my problems–feel oh so small. I love it! This story is not new to any climber, but I just have to share about why I am tingling from my days in the mountains. I was lie-backing a crack on a new route my friend Bob Steed had just put up (How lucky was I?! A second ascent in Yosemite! And Go Bob!). It was a very physical climb, and my muscles were getting totally pumped out–I felt I had nothing left. The lactic acid building up burned, and I felt I had little control over my arms and hands. “Watch me, Bob! I think I’m going to pump out!” (aka FALL!). I then realized that I had a choice–either pop off thinking I had nothing left, or keep going until my body decided on its own that it had nothing left. The first would be giving up based on an assumption. The latter would be having given it my best. The consequence of both would be a fall. A consequence of the first would be that I would have not known if I indeed had nothing left. A consequence of the latter would be that I would have learned my true limits.

This is one of the reasons I love to climb. You get put into these situations that are so real, and your choices are so clear. In a split second you decide. And I decided to keep going and to let my body tell me what it knew.

I was shocked as I progressed further and further up the crack, actually amazed that I hadn’t fallen yet. “Nice!” Bob said as I then moved beyond the roof and onto the next vertical portion of the crack.” Shocked again that I was still moving up, I just put one hand in front of the other, panting like I hadn’t in a LONG time, trying to place my feet deliberately despite my fatigue and sweat. I was in awe as high-speed swifts would dive into the narrow crack above me and then shoot out at amazing speeds with a loud swish…I’d have to contemplate that one later…How DO they do that into and out of such a small crack? Next thing I knew I saw the anchors, and I was standing at the belay! Once again, shocked. And so freakin’ happy!!!! The view was spectacular, with the skyline of The Rostrum shooting up in the distance, the clearest blue sky, relaxing safely above the mosquitoes, the pumping Merced River at high flow below–the deep green of its flatwater blending in with the trees, the white foam of its rapids standing out in a deep contrasting line. I took long, deep breaths and inhaled the familiar Yosemite air.

I was so glad I didn’t just give up and let go. I was so glad I didn’t just assume I had nothing left. How often we convince ourselves we can’t take any more in all aspects of our lives. We are CONVINCED of it–we think we KNOW we are DONE. Yet climbing has taught me time and time again the tricks that the mind can play to keep us seemingly “safe.” But in reality, these mind trips of our self-imposed limits keep us small in the most stifling way.

This, of course, means I need to climb something harder next. To know my limits and to know–really know–what I’m made of. Ironically, I will only know that when I fall. So, in the end, I guess if I want to grow, I set out to fall (even though I’d never admit that at the base of the climb!). Then I set out to learn more and more so I can push past that limit, and the next, and the next. After all, that limit is only temporary. It tells me where I need to focus my energies to grow, and improve. Each time we do that for ourselves–when we stop thinking we’ll “”just try” and instead we DO and go for it–we offer ourselves the opportunity for growth. Sometimes we fall and sometimes we don’t–but when it is a surprise, that is very tingly nonetheless!

So, this weekend, take a leap of sorts, and go for it. Don’t just “try.” Go for it! You can even be afraid of falling–just don’t let go assuming you’ll fall. Wondering “what if” is way less fun. Surprise yourself! And watch out for that sneaky little mind of yours that tries to convince you that you are anything less than the great being you ARE.

Complaining: Do you find yourself complaining a lot these days, or know someone who does? Enter: CHOICE

 

Students on an Alaskan Outward Bound mountaineering course: the ultimate breeding ground for complaining...and learning not to.

“Who you are, what you are, and where your life is going are all choices”~Joseph Luciani

It can often be easy to fall into the mindset that life happens to us, and when we experience life from this point of view, we often fall into the pattern of complaining when things aren’t how we’d like them to be.  “I hate how I am always so tired” “The house is so messy” “My boss is a jerk” “I hate that my boyfriend is always late” “I am so out of shape” “It is so annoying how so-and-so always complains” (that one is particularly ironic!). All these statements, while perhaps speaking complete or partial truths, send out an energy of helplessness when we just use them to complain. Enter: CHOICE. We can actually choose to do something about most of these things, and at a minimum choose how we respond to it. They need not suck us dry of our energy, which is what complaining does. We can be happier as a result! And that’s kinda the point, right?

The perspective of lack of choice begins at a young age. Back in the day when I guided mountaineering courses for at-risk youth with Outward Bound, I would remind the students that none of them had to be there, and that if they didn’t want to be there, they could go home. To be on a challenging expedition and have it be a success, you had to want to be there. The response was often, “I don’t have a choice. I have to be here or I have to go to a correction facility” or “If I went home, my parents would send me to military school, so I don’t have a choice,” and other such examples…and more complaining. The point, however, was that while the choices available may not be the choices we want, everything was a choice nonetheless. You can choose to stay and play and work hard in the mountains, or choose to go to military school, for example. These choices also shape the next part of your life, as well as how you experience the present moment and circumstances. As the days on these courses went by, these young kids starting saying things to each other like, “Well, if you don’t like what I cooked, you have a choice: either carry it out or eat it, but please stop complaining about it because I worked hard at it even if you don’t like it.” Harsh? Not really. Life is too short for complaining. There are way better things to do at dinnertime in the mountains, like watch the stars and tell stories. Complaining drains not only you, but those listening to you.

This perspective can get even stronger in adulthood after years of feeling limited in our options. In my coaching practice today, a common statement is, “If you only understood the circumstances, you’d realize I don’t have a choice.” Well, as in the above example, just because we don’t like the options doesn’t mean we don’t have a choice. Choices are often tough, and we’d often rather not make a choice at all. Yet, that too is a choice made (isn’t there a Rush lyric about that????). The main distraction in a situation where all our choices, well, suck is that we forget we have a choice about how we respond to it. After all, really we are complaining because we aren’t happy. So…how can we make choices that make us happier when we can’t change the facts?

One woman at a coaching workshop I was at described being targeted at work to be pushed out of a partnership that she had spent years working towards. She felt absolutely helpless and attacked and was complaining effusively about it (note: sometimes when we are complaining, we can convince ourselves we are actually just telling a story). When asked why she was choosing to feel so defeated about this, she responded by saying, “I don’t have a choice about feeling this way. If you just understood the situation, you’d see I have no choice about how I feel right now. This stress is REAL.”

Well, exactly. The stress IS real. However, it is also real that we choose how to respond to a situation. This does not dismiss the complete awfulness of her situation. There is a time and place for processing the grief around that. However, she had already done that, and now her goal was to feel better in a circumstance that wasn’t going to change anytime soon. She spent many minutes describing her scenario in detail trying to get people to understand why she felt so bad. She was asked once again to think about why she was choosing to feel that way. As you can imagine, there was a lot of resistance around this. However, eventually, after quiet moments alone and support from others, at the end of the day she realized she could step out of her anxiety about the situation, and move into a place of more grace and power. She had decided that’s how she wanted to be in this situation. When this finally happened, it was a huge shift for her. It didn’t change the circumstances. They were still very real, and very awful. However, it did change her experience of it to one that better served her and made her happier. It stemmed for realizing choice in what we do and how we choose to be. Her complaining and helplessness were draining her, and now she could come from a place of more clarity and action.

So, what to do when all that annoying stuff gets in the way? If you can, start with trying to make requests instead of complaining. For example, if someone is always showing up late with you, instead of complaining to your other friends about how they always do this, make the request that they be more mindful about being on time because it is important to you, and being on time is a sign of respect for you (some people don’t feel that way!). If they continue to be late, then either don’t expect them to come on time, or don’t make plans where being on time is important. If your dessert at a restaurant is bad, don’t call the waiter over and complain about it. Just make a request to get a different one. If they don’t oblige, write a review stating the facts and don’t go back. Make a valiant attempt to change the situation. Complaining will just wear you down. That’s the last thing we need!

If you honestly can’t change it (not just thinking that you can’t change it, or are immobilized by fear about changing it), then try this: LET IT GO! Try your best to shift your perspective and see the bigger picture; do the work to be in a perspective that serves YOU better and allows you to be happier. How to do that is a huge topic, but you get what I mean. We’ve all done it at some point in our lives: However hard it might have been to let go of being totally angry or jealous or sad, at some point we realized that it was no longer serving us, and we moved on to bigger and better things.

Choose to be happy, either by changing your circumstance, or your perspective. You deserve that…and more! I realize this is easier said than done. But isn’t that the truth about most things in life worth doing?

“If you can change something, why be unhappy? If you can’t change something, why be unhappy?”~ Shantideva


Knock Kock-It’s Time to Wake Up!

Living Wild Awake in Kauai

As you may or may not know, I have a history of cancer (twice! and all clear for several years now), and I probably think about living fully, death, dying and such more than the average person. I got a pretty clear message the other day, and thought I had to share. I get annual MRIs to make sure all is good, and so far it has always been “All is good! Thank you, and see you next year!” THIS time, however, I got the call at 4:55pm on a Friday and a message was left on my machine: “Hi, Ana! Dr. not-being-aware-of-how-people-can-work-themselves-up-with-anxiety-over-a-few-words here. I am leaving the office now and won’t be back in until Tuesday, so try to call me then and we’ll get you those results.”

Now I have to wait 4 days????? Why didn’t he just say all was good? So, of course I can tell myself it is nothing…if it was urgent I would have gotten a call earlier. I listened to the message multiple times to catch subtleties in his tone. I had my close friends and partner listen to it as well. All said he sounded, in effect, jolly, and how could a doctor possibly sound jolly if something indeed was very, very wrong?

Well, if anyone can make up a story around that, a former cancer patient can! I thought “really? am i really going to have to do this AGAIN?” I blamed myself,

Oh, wait! This is more like it!

even making up a story like perhaps it was because I wasn’t living fully that I was being punished (being raised Catholic can be SUCH a pain around mindset sometimes!). I pictured all the things I wanted to do that might be put off if I had to deal with this, how sad I would be for a little while, then how warrior-like I’d be taking it all on, wondering which of my friends would show up for me, who would this filter out, would I be able to drop a day of work, what would I have done if I was self-employed and didn’t have health insurance, what might this cost to explore and possibly have to fix. That’s a lot of worry and drama. Such is the case when we aren’t in the present (notice how all that stuff wasn’t actually happening!). Wow, I was really going for it, working myself up like that! Or so I thought.

I then went off to a coaching course in San Francisco, and after the first day I somehow ended up putting myself into the loving hands of one of our powerful instructors that weekend, Sabina. To make a long, dramatic, and powerful story short (I know…those are supposed to be the long ones…) THIS was really going for it. She ended up helping me to allow my full range of feelings to manifest and I admitted I was afraid of dying (DUH! But say it: It is weird to say), that I wasn’t ready, that there were times in my life where I actually felt that it would be OK if I died at that moment and THIS wasn’t one of them. I realized that what I feared was not so much death itself, but the fact that I haven’t been living fully. There were things I was putting off, fears that I

allowed to hold me back…only hold me back 10-15%, but still, holding me back! This call wasn’t me getting punished, this was a WAKE UP call because I had let my lessons from my previous experiences drift away from my focus lately. And I was not going to let that happen anymore. I actually hadn’t realized that I had drifted off from my mission of living full-on because relative to many, it appears I am living full-on and I can convince myself of that too when I compare myself to others. But, only I know when that is true, and it wasn’t really true right now! I made the mindset shift, and my coach held me be accountable to live full-on DAILY for the next 21 days. Here I am doing it, and it feels fantastic. I am myself again!

I am writing this so that you don’t have to get the big slap in the face of the big C before you force yourself to look at your life and who you are being. Allow me to have done that for you, and heed the call. So, what have you been putting off doing, or saying? Do it! What grudge have you been holding? Let it GO! Most importantly, who have you been putting off BEING?  Be it now!

Knock knock. Who’s there? I am the tick tock of death’s clock here to tell you to WAKE UP NOW!

Damn, that’s heavy. Damn straight it IS!

“Car”ma, Community, and Connections

I’d been driving over the Siskiyou Pass towards San Francisco in my trusty 2008 Subaru Outback when I decided to christen her with the name “Rocinante.”  I hadn’t been inspired by a name until that drive. However, on this day, as I saw the volcanic valleys stretched before me and Mount Shasta boldly standing her ground, I was reminded of Don Quixote’s  companion horse (albeit a skinny one) named Rocinante, which happens to also be the namesake of Steinbeck’s camper truck in which he journeyed the country in Travels With Charley. I thought it fitting for the amazing adventures I’ve had–and was looking forward to having–with my earth-brown auto with “MIDWYF” plates.  Her trunk was perpetually filled with camping gear and toys for journeys into the mountains or to the ocean.

I don’t know if she took offense to the name, but Rocinante broke down suddenly and fiercely only a few days later on my way back to Oregon in Willows, CA, about an hour south of Chico. It was a dark and lonely night (really–it was!), and the gas station at which she blew two head gaskets was desolated and dimly lit with buzzing fluorescent lights. Many days later, we would discover she developed the auto-equivalent of a pulmonary embolism.  Her radiator suddenly and unexpectedly formed a plug that blocked all flow to the engine. Poor Rocinante…she sat steaming and gurgling at the Willows station until all that built up pressure and heat finally dissipated. When it did, the station seemed to slowly  fill with curious and chivalrous townsmen who hmmm’d and haaaa’d at her engine. The general consensus was that she was toast.

I managed to have her towed to the nearest Subaru dealer in Chico after a night at the Willows Holiday Inn Express. While the mechanics in Willows were kind and generous, they looked at her engine like it was made of laser beams and I had to bring her to the nearest qualified shop. I missed a day in clinic as I spent that Monday being told of the thousands of dollars I would have to pay if this ended up not being covered by Subaru or my insurance.

Later that day I rented a car, as loaner cars from the dealer could only go 100 miles from the shop (and Ashland was further than that!), the regional Subaru rep wasn’t going to cover a rental until they  decided what happened and who would pay for what, and my USAA auto insurance only covered car rental for incidents related to car accidents. My insurance rep did ask if a rodent had chewed through a hose or something. In that case, he said, it would be a covered condition (in addition to accidents). Hmmm. Sorry, no rodent. Just two blown head gaskets. I couldn’t wait for anyone to decide anything as I needed to get back to work,  so my trusty rental Ford Focus and I were introduced. I was afraid to name her lest she have the same reaction as Rocinante. We headed off, anonymously, into the night.

After ten days without Rocinante, I had to drive back down to Chico to drop off my rental car, as apparently the Enterprise rental company in Chico was too small to allow out-of-state drop-offs, and I was now granted a loaner car in Oregon (rental car still not covered…long story…). Rocinante was still in quarantine until the regional Subaru rep was able to examine her, and they hadn’t even started the repair, so I needed someone to come who would drive me back as well. Up for a ride, anyone? Anyone???????

In case you’re wondering, I recently found out Subaru is covering the whole repair as Rocinante was well-fed and cared for by Subaru here in Oregon, and the development of her condition remains a mystery. The things Subaru didn’t cover were finding people to drive back and forth with me to Chico to drop off rental cars and the like, finding people to lend me a car after driving back from Chico since I was on call that night and couldn’t pick up a loaner car until the next morning–but I still needed an emergency vehicle, and taking care of my sleep-deprivation from late nights far from home or while on call here delivering babies as the saga unfolded.

This is where I was reminded once again how misfortune can often open my eyes to the blessings in my life. Friends–people I’d known for years as well as those I’d only spent a few occasions with–rose to the terribly inconvenient situation and stepped up for me. Members of my community went out of their way to lend me their car, cook me a delicious home-made dinner after I arrived late from an 8-hour journey to Chico and back, and even drive with me (half the time by themselves!) on that 8 hour journey…and we weren’t even heading to Yosemite (which usually makes an 8-hour drive worth it). They woke up early to drop me off at the shop,  listened to me, supported me, rallied for me, laughed with me at the ridiculousness of all of it, and strategized the future of Rocinante. My partner, over 700 miles away, regularly kept track of my fiascoes and assured me all would be well. They helped me feel cared for.

To feel like a part of a community is a blessing, and one that has been relatively challenging to cultivate in my life as a part-time vagabond. I seem to be in and out of town with relative frequency (Ashland is the place I’ve lived the longest in my adult life!), and I often wonder what I can give back to people in my community during the often brief times we are able to share.

I’ve had far more serious challenges for which my friends have come forth: two diagnoses of cancer, a renal auto-transplant, my father’s passing to name a few, and I am reminded of the importance of offering true connection to the people in my life, because that is what was invaluable for me during those times. Not just pleasantries, but authentic connection. I think that as I write this, what I mean by connection is that the people we are interacting with feel seen and heard. And that means that we try to have to the wisdom to know what they need to feel that way–not just what we would need to feel that way in a similar moment.

My community grows deeper from shared connections. I have been gone a lot lately, and now that I’ll be around for the next couple of weeks, I am looking forward to helping those around me know what they mean to me…to feel cared for, seen and heard. We all deserve that, because each moment of this life is precious, and each one of us deserves to be uplifted and held by those close to us.

We humans love and live for connection–it’s not the  multiple superficial ones, but quality and authentic connections that truly sustain us. It would be unnecessary for someone we care about to feel taken for granted, so I encourage us all to set the intention to remember a little more often that the little connections matter, and to go out of our way to do something special for those in our lives. You can write a card and drop it off on the porch, make that phone call that seems there is no time for, buy them a copy of that book by the author they always talk about, have tea, send a funny photo, or simply–and perhaps most importantly–tell them authentically and with presence that they are important to you and why, and listen to them when they speak. Like the Tong-len meditations in Tibetan Buddhism, once we do that with the people close to us for which it might flow a little easier, we can then move on to help those with which we have seemingly brief and passing interactions to feel seen. We are all using our life force, in whatever we do and with whomever we are doing it with, and it is equally valuable to all of us. Let’s make it worthwhile!

Peak Experiences and Feeling Connected to Your Purpose

Greasy-haried but happy on the pass above the Hongku Valley on a climb of Mera Peak, Nepal

I like thinking about the happy places…the special moments in the mountains when the light is just right, mountains towering above (or below!), perfect silence pervading, and feeling strong and centered and surrounded by beauty, like everything was perfect and I knew it; The crazy moments being taken up in the ocean’s swell on a surfboard only to have a school of dolphins swim by and around and under as the sun rose and hit the waves just right so the dolphins surfing in the waves were backlit by a universal glow, feeling so small and slightly frightened about the vastness that lay below me in the ocean’s depths, yet somehow knowing it was all good; Lying by my dad’s side during his last days on this earth, my arms around him as he called me an angel and me being able to tell him how much I love him and to hear him tell me the same as he hovered in that sacred space between here and beyond the notions of “here and there,” somehow knowing that all was right. It seems the common theme in these experiences wasn’t a pretty sunset or big adventure, but rather an innate knowing that all was perfect.

Peak experiences–those experiences in life when we feel fully connected to something greater than ourselves, when we feel that special knowing–help us learn a lot about who we are, our values, how we honor those values. When was your most recent peak experience? What were you doing? Where were you? Who were you with? What does that experience tell you about what fulfills you? Now, take that wisdom and see how you can manifest it more often in your daily life. Is there something that reminds you of that experience? Use it to help remember what is important to you….perhaps a rock from that mountain top, a photo in a cool frame, a seashell from the beach, a poem from your loved one. Take a small part of each day to connect with that “happy place.” Maybe go for a walk after dinner under the full moon, meditate in the morning on your blessings for 3-5 minutes, look your children in the eyes and let them see into your soul, roll in the grass (or snow!) with your dog, make a plan to have a small adventures each week (go to a new restaurant, hike a new trail, go to a new class at the gym). Whatever you do, try to find a way to stay connected to that peak experience. Create the space in your life for it to enter more often, in unexpected ways.

Gratitude

The Vitamin D fix…it is amazing what a little bit of sun can do for the soul. I went to the Big island of Hawaii and then to Kauai a few weeks ago. We had a surreal time kayaking with dolphins in Kaelakekua Bay, snorkeling in crystal-clear waters with our kayaks tethered to our waists (no beaching or anchoring of kayaks is allowed in the marine preserve). We found hidden beaches off muddy 4WD roads and watched amazingly saturated sunsets with colors enriched by volcanic ash, beholding the burning red orb of our sun descending below the horizon. A helicopter ride into the other-worldly valleys of the Na Pali Coast sent us into meditation thousands of feet above the world that we’d hiked below. Quiet moments on deserted beaches–including the 15 (or is it 17?)-mile stretch of beach at Polihale State Park–are always such a surprise for an island that is a part of our normally crowded and busy US of A. I returned refreshed and renewed, appreciating the gifts of daily dips and playing in healing ocean waters, fresh and locally-grown food each day, and a slower pace of life.

Ultimately, this much-needed vacation was also a timely reminder to count my blessings. This journey and my subsequent return home allowed me to take inventory and truly see what was before me in the here and now, in my daily life, with my local community and family. I have a renewed appreciation for my close group of friends and the beautiful valley I live in, where I can access organic and local food at our farmer’s markets or the Ashland Food Co-op, take daily trail runs in the mountains, go xc skiing in the afternoons, and not have to rush around to find parking every day. I can walk to my dear friends’ homes, sleep with a clear starry sky above, and spend a quiet evening away from traffic and smog. I returned to snow and crisp air…and feel enlivened! It’s nice when it feels good to come home.

Consider starting a gratitude journal. Studies have shown that people who keep gratitude journals or have some kind of gratitude practice for only 15 minutes a week have higher rates of happiness and less risk of depression. Wake up in the morning and take a few minutes to state (verbally or internally) what you’re grateful for–even if it is as simple as having woken up. Never take that for granted! Or, write in a journal once a week listing your blessings: your family, a roof over your head, your dearest friend(s), food in your stomach. Whatever it is, you deserve to remind yourself of your blessings…they are there! Feel that fully, and bring it into the New Year.



Commitment to Do What it Takes

Mixed climbing in Ouray

If you’re interested, you’ll do what’s convenient. If you’re committed, you’ll do whatever it takes.” – John Assara

This quote is about taking action and it has inspired me to do whatever it takes to continue to create a life in which I am fulfilled and feel balance. I was supposed to be going to Yosemite to meet up with old friends, do a bit of climbing, and check out the Telluride MountainFilm Festival that was on tour and showing at the Lee Vining Gas Mart (you should go if you get a chance). My partner in crime got called for jury duty…bummer? Could be…but it is also a blessing, as I have had so little time to put my energy towards the many other things that feed my soul. As a result, I am taking this opportunity to focus on planning my future workshops and taking the time to nourish my body and soul…perhaps some long hikes in the hills of Ashland, a spa day, and more yoga and meditation! My boyfriend and I have some family coming in from out of town, and it will be great to share this gem of a town with them, which I would have missed otherwise. I decided to put a picture of me doing my first “mixed climb” (which is climbing both rock and ice) because so often in climbing, you get stuck at a point where you wonder what to do next…and in the end, you just have to do whatever it takes to make it happen to get to the top! Here, I was in a totally new element climbing rock with ICE tools as I made my way towards the next ice fall, and I had to work with what I had to keep heading up. It was exhilarating!

What could you be doing today to move you towards a more balanced and fulfilled life? Perhaps take some time to reach out to that friend or family member you haven’t connected with in a while, or put your nose to the grindstone and get that project out of the way that you’ve been putting off for a while (it’s always easier than we think it will be, isn’t it?). Whatever you do, today, take action to make your life a little more whole…you deserve it!